Let’s face it, online dating is a gamble. Swiping is a lot like a slot machine, and you are essentially trying to win a first date while losing most hands you play. What’s more, it’s hard to really read people when you are interacting online, and therefore you put yourself at risk of falling for misleading profiles or false intentions. In fact, 53 percent of people using dating apps lie on their profiles.
“As dating apps become more and more popular, we are seeing more frequent news stories warning users of the risks,” says Andrea Harvey, a research and communications specialist at ASecureLife, who notes that user concerns are growing. “Particularly over the past year, we’ve received a growing number of people asking about safety tips for dating apps.”
That’s exactly why the security experts at ASecureLife set out to determine which dating apps offer the best safety features. To conduct their research, the team reviewed eight of the most popular apps and developed a basic checklist of features that can affect users’ safety, security, and privacy. These include safety guidelines, a lengthy sign-up, reporting and blocking features, controlled visibility (aka who you see and who see you), and fraud prevention.
Researchers found Okcupid to be the safest dating app, offering four out of the five features. The app has a comprehensive sign-up with a required set of questions, as well as clear community guidelines. Plus, its algorithm (which was built Harvard math majors) actually listens to what you want. The entire site’s ethos is built around numbers, using a mix of non-traditional questions and math to better calculate the compatibility of its users – and weed out the weirdos. You can also easily block and report users for hateful or harassing content, and Okcupid is quick to ban users who violate its extensive list of terms.
Hinge, CoffeeMeetsBagel, and PlentyOfFish followed with three out of the five safety features. Other popular apps, including Zoosk, Grindr, and Tinder, feature only two: safety guidelines and the ability to easily block and report suspicious accounts.
And though Bumble gives women more control over the experience, to my surprise, the app also only offers two of the five features. Still, it should be noted that Bumble is going to extremes to protect women online. Sending lewd photos on Bumble gets you immediately banned from the app, and the company’s CEO, Whitney Wolfe, just worked to help pass House Bill 2789, which criminalizes the sending of unsolicited sexual photos in the state of Texas. This is important, considering one study shows a number of men don’t even know this qualifies as sexual harassment.
But of all the safest dating apps reviewed, none offered fraud prevention. This presents a bigger (albeit, more challenging) issue. “In testing and reviewing these dating apps, one of the biggest takeaways was that it is not only possible, but incredibly easy, for anyone to make a fake profile on every single app we looked at,” Harvey says. “Because of that, there’s virtually no way for the owners of the app to enforce their ‘community guidelines’ or ‘terms and conditions’ without the help of other users.”
That’s why it’s extremely important to be cautious of the risks when online dating. At the end of the day, dating apps offer a convenient way to meet people in our increasingly busy lives, but you should never gamble with your personal safety to find a connection. Avoid dating sites that let anyone message you, continuing using the app’s messaging system when first getting to know someone, and don’t share too many personal details over the phone. If you choose to meet up for a first date, always — always — meet in a public place and arrange your own transportation. You may even want to considering texting a friend the details of your date.
“Remember that your personal safety is ultimately in your own hands, and you truly can never be too careful,” says Harvey.